2020 rear vision

Mon Jan 04 2021 07:10:43 GMT+1100 (Australian Eastern Daylight Time)

Wow, 2020, what a shitshow.

I wasn't sure a 2020-in-review post would be all that interesting — and perhaps it's not — but my extended family has a bit of a tradition of "Christmas letters" and it's good to reflect, so here we are.


I was astonished to discover that I read 27 books last year — the same as 2019. I felt like I'd read a lot less this year, but enduring the longest COVID-19 lockdown in the world turned out to have mixed results for my reading that all washed out in the end. Something I did finally realise is that when I find myself wanting to watch TV or Netflix instead of reading it's an indication that I'm stressed. Lockdown gave me both time and mental space to read more, because I no longer had 90 minutes of commuting between home and work every day, nor any social engagements. But it also was a pretty brutal experience mentally. As is so often the case, it wasn't until I was coming out of the funk that I realised how much it had affected my state of mind. In retrospect, for weeks on end I was simply getting through as best I could, trying to be a supportive manager during the day and scrolling blankly through the Netflix catalogue by night. I don't want to overstate the case — many people have had a far worse time of it and every day I thank my lucky stars I don't live in the USA — but it sucked. However, I now have a pretty clear indication to look out for if my mental wellbeing is taking a dive. Probably would have been useful to know during that extended period a few years ago when I found myself binging on The Expanse whilst unable to read more than 6 pages in a row 😒.


I started a new job the week before Christmas 2019 and like many people in March I found myself managing a new and newly remote team from my kitchen table. At least we'd finished hiring everyone before then. I am, of course, lucky to still have my job — many workers in universities and elsewhere weren't so lucky — but nevertheless being officially "on probation" as the biggest financial disaster in decades hit Australian universities was ...disconcerting. At MPOW we all swallowed a pay cut and hoped for the best, or at least hoped to avoid the worst.


What was I doing when I wasn't working, reading, or doom-scrolling the Netflix catalogue? Coding of course. I got a fair bit done:

  • completed Rockpool and migrated Aus GLAM Blogs to use it.
  • merged pickpocket into pocketsnack
  • launched a version 1.0.0 of empocketer and subsequently fixed it when it was pointed out to me that it wasn't working properly.
  • received more pull requests for ephemetoot and reconfigured it for my first release on PyPi
  • wrote my first ever code used in a real paid work: a Python script to add users from a CSV file to Alma using the Alma API. It's not particularly fancy but it did feel pretty good to be able to do it.
  • learned enough Rust to re-write a nodejs tool for drafting and publishing static site blog posts in Rust

I also did a bunch of system administration work, migrating servers for my own personal projects and again for newCardigan's main web server, and overseeing a major web server migration project at MPOW — a pretty big deal given we had both a deadline and limited information about what was actually on the server and how it worked.


Somewhat surprisingly, I managed to write eleven blog posts and seven email newsleters last year. Hopefully some of it was interesting, though the posts that were most snarky and frustrated seemed to garner the most feedback. Go figure.


So here we are in 2021. What bold predictions shall I make for this year? Something that 2020 has reinforced for me is that predictions are for chumps. I have low expectations for 2021. There's no point planning anything with any expectation it will actually happen. On the other hand, one of my great frustrations last year was with people who were incapable of making decisions in the face of uncertainty. Sometimes you just have to commit now and deal with the consequences later.

I've read and listened to a fair whack of radical politics in the last couple of years. Something that's become clear is that those who have managed to hold on to hope, to fight another day and inspire future generations, are those who held low expectations for the near future and yet committed themselves anyway. Those who believed their fellow humans and comrades were destined to work cooperatively together, but were nevertheless pleasantly surprised to discover evidence supporting this belief.

Traditionally we're told to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But these are not — thank goodness — "normal" times. Perhaps for 2021 — and beyond — it's best to hope for the best, expect the worst, and prepare for disappointment. That might sound bleak, but I mean it positively. This year is probably going to be another pile of shit, but if we expect that, perhaps we can turn it into useful fertiliser for growing something good.